Monday, June 09, 2008

China increases security & visa rules

Keeping a watchful eye: Foreigners have been warned

Anyone who has recently applied for a Chinese visa recently will have noticed more complex forms and red tape getting in their way to obtaining permission to visit China. Everyday hundreds can be seen queuing outside Chinese Embassies attempting to obtain their visa. But recently new forms and regulations have further complicated the procedure and created delays and frustrations for thousands. In addition, BOCOG, the Beijing Olympic organising committee, have issued a nine page document outlining security measures and restrictions on the movements and behaviour of foreigners.

In order to obtain a visa each applicant must provide confirmation of hotel bookings and flights. Further problems exist if staying with friends or relatives with letters and copies of ID cards being required. But after arrival in Beijing, foreigners are warned to watch their step. In the 57 page document which surfaced on the official website, details are laid out which cover everything from protests to a list of restricted items. The rules and regulations entitled "A guide to Chinese law for Foreigners coming to, leaving or staying in China during the Olympics" only appears on the Chinese version of the site. There was no equivalent version on the English side of the site.
The guide says Olympic ticket holders "still need to visit China embassies and consulates and apply for visas according to the related rules." The authorities also hope to keep out protesters and state, "In order to hold any public gathering, parade or protest the organizer must apply with the local police authorities. No such activity can be held unless a permit is given. ... Any illegal gatherings, parades and protests and refusal to comply are subject to administrative punishments or criminal prosecution." The document also warns against the display of insulting slogans or banners at any sports venue. The guidelines seem to clash with a pledge made two month ago by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who said athletes could exercise freedom of speech in China. He asked only that athletes refrain from making political statements at certain official Olympics venues. "Freedom of expression is something that is absolute," Rogge said in Beijing in April. "It's a human right. Athletes have it" [CNN].

The rules published Monday say entry will be denied to those "who might conduct acts of terrorism, violence and government subversion ... and those who might engage in activities endangering China's national security and national interest." Foreigners staying with Chinese residents in urban areas must register at a local police station within 24 hours of arriving. The limit in rural areas is 72 hours. And a warning to anyone thinking of setting a Chinese flag alight. The guide also threatens criminal prosecution against anyone "who burns, defaces ... insults or tramps on the national flag or insignia." [Google translation]

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